Staunton, August 16 – In a concession to the idea that it cannot afford to ignore the wishes of the population entirely even if it opposes popular elections of governors, the ruling United Russia Party has decided not to support nominate the deeply unpopular Georgy Boos for a second term in Kaliningrad.
Had it done otherwise and insisted that the incumbent be given another term, Olga Tropkina writes in “Novaya politika” today, the wave of protests that Boos’ policies provoked last winter would likely grow to the point that the powers that be might not be able to control the situation (novopol.ru/-kaliningrad-stal-kamnem-pretknoveniya-dlya-partii-vla-text88684.html).
The party’s decision, Tropkina says, is “a signal event” which casts doubt on “the effectiveness of the existing mechanism of appointing heads of regions in Russia.” But she concedes that it may reflect both Boos’ shortcomings as a governor and the commitment of the opposition forces to oppose him and anyone Moscow appoints.
“Now,” she continues, “after the choice of the Federal Center [concerning Boos’ successor,] we will find out whether it is ready to move away from the strategy of assigning governors on the basis of the preferences and directions of the federal leadership of one party and listen instead to the opinion of residents of the region.”
Obviously, this involves more than Kaliningrad because there are many other regions prepared to resist the appointment of an unknown outsider loyal only to Moscow and which, like Kaliningrad would consider “the optimal variant” to be “a return to the direct election of the governors.”
In Kaliningrad, the “Novaya politika” commentator notes, United Russia is extremely unpopular, in large measure because of its links to Boos. According to one recent poll, the party would receive only 33 percent of the votes in an election for the Duma; and according to another private one – which is probably more accurate – United Russia would get only 12 percent.
Some in Moscow may think that United Russia’s problems there and elsewhere will be overcome if another leader is appointed. But a Kaliningrad resident said that if Moscow sends someone else, “everything will begin again. Boos is one of the cogs of the mechanism known as ‘the vertical of power’ and ‘United Russia’ as the new CPSU.”
And the leaders of other parties in Kaliningrad have made it clear that they are prepared to vote against any candidate from Moscow in deference to the opinions of the region’s people and implicitly because that is the only way that they can hope to win support from those very people as well (svpressa.ru/society/article/29073/).
Meanwhile, opposition figures elsewhere, like Boris Nemtsov, are seeing United Russia’s decision with regard to Boos not only as a victory for the Kaliningrad opposition but even more as an indication that they and other opposition groups can hope to win if they continue to demonstrate against those in power (echo.msk.ru/blog/nemtsov_boris/703645-echo/).
The Kaliningraders have provided “a lesson” for all those unhappy with the current state of affairs, Nemtsov says. “The chief lesson is that one must be firm and principled, and sooner or later you will win,” not just in Kaliningrad but in places like Moscow, where the opposition wants Mayor Yuri Luzhkov ousted and in other regions as well.
And “finally,” he says, what happened in Kaliningrad shows that the opposition must and can achieve a return to the system of elected governors and do everything possible to ensure that “the ideologue and architect of the thieving vertical” Vladimir Putin will have no possibility of returning to the Russian presidency in 2012.
Other opposition groups, like Democratic Choice, are drawing the same conclusions (v-milov.livejournal.com/258828.html). They may be right, but it may also be the case that by removing the odious Boos, Moscow will have bought itself not only time but more support from the population, something that the opposition does not seem prepared to consider.